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The role of the A&R manager - what does he actually do?

The A&R manager is probably the most misunderstood person in the music business. All they do is prevent you getting in, don't they?


The A&R manager is certainly a creative person in his or her own right. Out of the thousands of artists, musicians, writers and bands there are around, the A&R manager has to pick the one that is going to be successful, and nurture their career into the big money zone.

Many people outside the industry see the A&R department of a record company as a barrier, an obstacle to their success. But in fact it is the opposite, the A&R manager is going to be the enabler of success - but only for the chosen few.

And out of the few who are chosen to be given the opportunity of fame, fortune and success, many will fail at the first hurdle - their first CD doesn't sell and the record company invokes one of a number of 'get out' clauses in the contract and bids them goodbye.

Among the many who would like to be successful as an solo artist or band, most see that elusive recording contract as their goal.

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In fact, a recording contract is just a entry into a high stakes game of snakes and ladders where unfortunately the ladders are few, long and steep, and the snakes are many and exceedingly slippery - as any contracted artist turned van driver will tell you!

As a producer, your dealings with the A&R department of a record company will take one of two forms. Either the record company has signed an act and they approach you to produce it, or you have associated yourself - or even created - an act and you offer it to the company.

Choosing a producer is a key part of the A&R manager's role because the producer can potentially make or break the record. It is usually considered important that the artist or band gets on well with the producer and can work with them comfortably.

If there is stress in the studio then it is likely not to be musically productive, although there have been exceptions to this rule. The band would also have to respect the producer.

Many bands have the attitude of 'we know what we are doing and we don't want to be produced', but you just have to look at how many bands have made it big with a producer's assistance, and how many bands haven't got anywhere because they were too pigheaded to relinquish just a little bit of control.

The producer of course should also have respect for the band, simply because if he or she doesn't think that the band is any good, then the motivation to do a good piece of work just won't be there.

Often the A&R manager will look at a producer's track record. If a producer has a history of success with guitar orientated bands, then it would be a safe option to choose him to produce your newly signed guitar band.

If a producer has had dance floor success, then he could be exactly right for your new solo artist. It's the 'horses for courses' principle. But there's a little more to it than that. Perhaps a band has already done an album and achieved moderate success, enough success to be allowed to do a second.

If you were the A&R manager would you choose the same producer? Perhaps if the producer was new to the business and you thought he may be capable of greater achievement then you may choose the same person again. But if the first album had been produced by an established name, then you would start to consider why it had only been a moderate rather than a stunning success.

Of course, you could put it down to the way the act had been marketed, but let's concentrate on the musical side of things. Since the album did sell, then there must have been something good about it, so the trick would be to choose a producer who can replicate all of those good things, and add even more to the band's sound, songs or performance.

This was the case with the Pulp album, 'Different Class'. Pulp's management, who handled this aspect of the A&R role, decided that although they had been pleased with Pulp's previous album, certain elements had been missed. They felt that there was a richness and depth to their live sound which hadn't been fully captured. Chris Thomas was engaged to produce the record and the subsequent success of this album confirmed that he was the right man for the job.

Alternatively, you might start your career as a producer by associating yourself with a band, developing and recording them, and then presenting them to a record company.

This is a slightly risky business because the record company might say that they like the band but they don't like you! If you have done the groundwork properly then you won't be too upset because you will have drawn up an agreement with the band so that you receive a payoff, or at least reimbursement of any costs you have incurred.

A&R people I have spoken to confirm that this is a viable approach, but you do have to present an 'act', and not just a recording. A band that can play live is an act, for example, and so is a solo singer with obvious sex appeal. Other than that, you will have to find an angle that the record company can use to market the material you produce.

The A&R manager's role certainly doesn't finish with finding bands and choosing producers - that is where it begins.

The A&R manager will nurture the creative team all the way through the recording process. The producer's skill will be in creating great music, or at least assisting the creation of great music.

The A&R manager understands what sells - and I'm sure you are well aware that there is a lot of great music about that hasn't sold nearly as much as it seems to deserve.

Some A&R managers rely on their instincts to make a good choice of producer and then let them get on with it with little or no interference, unless it seems that there is something going seriously wrong in some way.

One thing that might go wrong is that a whole album is recorded and there isn't an obvious single on it. For many acts, singles are a vital marketing tool without which the album cannot be a success.

In this case the A&R manager will either get the band to write some more songs, re-record one of the songs with more attention given to its singles chart potential, release one of the album tracks as a single and hope for the best, or if the worst comes to the worst scrap the whole project! This last situation is one you would probably prefer to avoid because you'll find yourself on the scrapheap too.

By David Mellor Monday August 28, 2006